The Most Delicious Assignment Ever

When your job involves walking through a commercial bakery, taking in the heavenly fragrance of fresh-baked, European-style, rustic breads, and then grabbing a baguette fresh out of the oven to sample, you know you have a good gig.

In the spring of 2013, ACE Bakery opened its first bakery in the United States in the small, rural town of Gaffney in South Carolina’s Upstate. I was hired by ACE’s Toronto-based public relations firm to work with them on the ground in South Carolina. The assignment was to introduce ACE Bakery to the Gaffney community and its artisan baked bread to the retail and food service sectors in the eastern US. We were to accomplish this in two ways: 1) Manage the grand opening event, which included a news conference, bakery tours and a luncheon for more than 75 guests, and 2) coordinate outreach to business and lifestyle media in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC market and targeted national trade media covering the food and beverage industry.

This was a particularly mouth-watering assignment for me as it reminded me of the semester I spent living in France and stopping by the local patisserie (bakery) in my neighborhood to sample the most delicious breads and pastries imaginable.

Although initial conversations began almost a year before, we began the planning process in earnest in December 2012 for an event to be held in April 2013. After some initial conference calls among a team that included representatives of ACE Bakery, their Toronto-based public relations firm, and me as their contractor in SC, we met in Gaffney in February 2013 for a site visit and a review of the plan with ACE’s Marketing Director and their newly hired CEO.

We held a 10 a.m. news conference that included remarks by ACE’s CEO and the executive director of the county development board along with a display of colorful cooler bags from Meals on Wheels of Cherokee County, to whom ACE had made a generous charitable contribution. The more than 80 guests included representatives of eight media outlets, members of the chamber of commerce, city and county officials, ACE corporate executives and local and state economic development officials.

Following the news conference, guests took tours of the bakery in groups of 10-15 people, beginning with a group of media. In planning the bakery tours, we had to consider security around the bakery’s proprietary equipment and processes, as well as the need to keep the facility sanitary. Guests were advised when RSVP’ing for the event that they should wear closed toe shoes and that they would be provided lab coats and hair nets during the tour to prevent contamination of the food products. To make the experience more “hands on,” we set up stations where guests could feel the flour and experiment with scoring the baguettes before they went into the ovens.

After the tours, guests enjoyed a luncheon in front of the bakery. We were incredibly fortunate to find a local caterer who did a beautiful job incorporating ACE’s breads into the development of a fresh, healthy spread that mirrored the menu at ACE’s café in Toronto. The caterer provided beautiful butcher block tables and a lovely presentation of flowers, baskets, oak barrels and copper beverage dispensers for a rustic feel that perfectly complimented ACE’s artisan breads. As guests left the event, everyone received a gift bag with fresh baguettes and other ACE products to take home.

Our extensive media relations plan resulted in terrific coverage from local and national media. Local media was highly interested because of the economic impact of the bakery’s $18 million investment and 51 new jobs in a lower income, rural county. Ultimately, the grand opening was covered by 12 media outlets – truly extraordinary for such a small town – including the town’s two weekly newspapers; the daily newspaper; three business publications; the statewide news radio network; and all three local TV stations. Coverage by trade publications included an online story by Baking and Biscuit and a terrific seven-page spread in the July issue of Baking and Snack, whose executive editor flew in from Missouri to attend the event and interview company executives.